Why it’s important to view suicide terrorists as rational actors

By Danielle Bonner

mind set

Credit Matt Dorfman

It can be difficult to imagine that a person who would carry out an act of suicide terrorism is a sane actor. It can be easier to assume such a person who would engage in such an brutal activity must be insane to have the ability to carry out such violent acts.

However researchers in the field of terrorism such as Jerrold Post argues that terrorists including the extreme suicide terrorists are in fact “psychologically normal” pointing out that terrorist groups themselves even take measures to insure they do not have mentally impaired individuals within their group or organisation because they recognise that such persons pose a security risk to their operations.[1]

Others such as Louise Richardson and Ehud Sprinzak also support the claim that Suicide terrorists are rational actors. Richardson notes that “there is no particular terrorist personality, and that the notion of terrorists as crazed fanatics is not consistent with the plentiful empirical evidence available”.[2] While Sprinzak who although does view terrorists even suicide bombers as fanatics states that they are also “rational fanatics”.

So if suicide terrorist are sane actors why is it important to test this theory? It’s been noted terrorism is a highly complex and constantly changing phenomenon,[3] if we are therefore going to understand its multiple aspects we must learn to understand its actors.

If we go from the position that terrorists are solely politically motivated we are able to understand the mental processes of such actors. If terrorists are sane actors when we can move away from the notion that their behaviour and actions are not some random acts of terror and violence but rather we can begin to address and investigate the reasons behind their behaviour their actions. Understanding such behaviour and motivations can go some way to developing counter-terrorism polices. There could be social issues that play a role in the recruitment of terrorists therefore if these issues could be addressed terrorism could be further reduced.

For example it has been reported there was increase in willing suicide bombers in 2002 when “Iraq decided to increase the payment to families of suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”[4] which would suggest there could be a social economic aspect for some terrorist to engage in such behaviour particularly those in low income societies where there is a history of ongoing conflict while others have also observed that there is an open willingness to die for the cause that being the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The use of suicide terrorism is a strategic tactic used by organisations to achieve their political objectives for example it has been reported that Al Qaida during 2005 response to seeing “Iraqi battalions beginning to join the persistent U.S. forces in al Anbar” they used suicide attacks as part of their strategic plan to avoid direct fighting with the international and national forces as they did not have the real capacity to defeat them. [5] The same could be said to the situation in Afghanistan and the use of suicide attacks by the Taliban to destabilize national security and install fear into the population arguable in these situations we can see that suicide terrorism in an active war zone is used as a war tactic.

One of the most recent cases surrounding the metal state of a terrorist was that of Norwegian Anders Breivik, who in 2011 planted a bomb and went on a shooting spree, in total his actions killed of 77 and the injury over 242. While Anders always stated himself to be sane whereas the prosecution tried to make the case for his insanity[6]. The case produced conflicting reports as to his mental state with the first Psychiatrists assessments concluding that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and later reports dismissing this diagnose.

On 24 August 2012, the trials presiding judges delivered a verdict declaring Breivik to be criminally sane and convicting him of terrorism and premeditated murder,[7]  In delivering the verdict Judge Wenche Arntzen in dismissing the argument of insanity pointed to the fact that “Breivik’s withdrawal and suspiciousness could be a consequence of his terrorist plans” rather than a result of insanity. [8]

But how can we be sure that terrorist are not crazed actors? It was noted by Edwin Bakker that “there is an absence of empirical evidence due in part to the fact that it is very difficult to diagnose terrorists, because few scholars have had the opportunity to interview and monitor terrorists the way psychiatrists normally can”.

Therefore in the absence of such evidence an argument could be made that we cannot be 100% sure suicide terrorists are not insane. However at the same time there is very “little empirical evidence that suggests that terrorists are crazy”. This situation also shows why it is important to continually monitor and evaluate the behaviour of such actors to ensure that counter-terrorism has the most up to date potential profile of such actors.

As its stands the majority of reported suicide terrorists can be seen not as insane actors but calculated and strategic tactic used to form part of an overall objective.  We therefore should focus on analysing terrorist believe values and working objectives to help combat current and future terrorist attacks.

[1] Post, Jerrold M. The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to Al Qaeda. (Palgrave Macmillan: 2007)

[2] Video 3.2 Assumptions Terrorists are crazy

[3] Bakker, Edwin. Jihadi terrorists in Europe, their characteristics and the circumstances in which they joined the jihad: an exploratory study, (Clingendael Institute: 2006) Click here to read

[4] Krueger, Alan B. and Jitka Malecková. ‘Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?’, NBER Working Paper No. 9074 (July 2002),  Click here to read

[5] Jones, Seth and Martin Libicki. How Terrorist Groups End: Implications for Countering Al Qa’ida | RAND, (RAND Corporation: 2008), pp. 1-45, Click here to read

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15936276

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19365616

[8] The Breivik case and what psychiatrists can learn from it – Melle – 2013 – World Psychiatry – Wiley Online Library. 2014. The Breivik case and what psychiatrists can learn from it – Melle – 2013 – World Psychiatry at:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wps.20002/full.


Women’s Equality Lets Make it Happen

Make it Happen

As a child I was fortunate to have many positive female role models in my life which never lead me to question or think that my gender would restrict me in what I wanted to do with my life. However as I have grown up and entered my adult life I’ve become conscious of the existing gender inequalities operating in society which impact the lives of women.
In honour of International Women’s Day I write and share this piece with you.
By Danielle Bonner


Around the world women have diverse and dynamic roles, in our daily lives we have women playing important roles from being mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins, to being role models, providers, leaders, workers, carers, inventors, the list is endless. Indeed there are women all around the world making a positive difference, many of whom we will never know their names yet the people around them will feel the benefit of their actions.

Every year on the 8th March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, but why do we have or need such a day? A simple answer could be to say because there is no country in the world that has reached gender equality[1], so we need to continue to raise awareness over the issue.

However this leads us to ask the question what is gender inequality and how does it affect women differently? Here I look to unravel this question and explore why the celebration of International Women’s Day is so important.

What is Gender Inequality and how does it affect women?  

I recently saw a comment made about the double standard of gender equality and why there is no International Men’s Day or a drive to get more boys into education like the drive to get more girls into education. Firstly just to note there actually is an IMD it’s on 19th November but it’s just not publicised very well!

However the comment made me think about what ‘Gender Equality’ really is and how does it affect women? I came to the conclusion that ‘Gender Equality’ should be the mutual respect and absolute undiscriminating empowerment of all genders. Gender Equality should be about a person not being scared or restricted in doing something just because of their gender while no person should be prevented from doing something just because of their gender.

In reality however this is not the case, there are many gender inequalities faced and experienced by women on a daily basis. We still live in a world that being born a female automatically ensures that your life will face certain inequalities that you may not have otherwise of faced had you been born a male.  While in some places in our world being born a female you are considered less valuable than being a male.

And in some extreme cases female babies do not even make it into this world because during pregnancy parents discover that the sex of their unborn child is female and decide to end the pregnancy which is known as Female infanticide,[2] or at birth the female baby is killed Femicide[3]

There are many other challenges and forms of inequalities faced by women around the world, here are just a few.

  • Employment- Pay Gaps“Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.”[4]
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities- there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Increased Psychical and Sexual violenceGlobal statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion however live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under representation in political decision-making- Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)[5]
  • Lack of Access to Education1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
  • Health- Every year, almost 300,000 women lose their life due to preventable complications during pregnancy & childbirth. (Care International)


With such inequalities continually effecting women’s lives, we must continue to work for gender equality and social change, to ensure that no matter what sex/gender you are, you are considered a valuable member of society, both given and treated with the respect that all human rights grant. We must work together as a society locally and globally to deconstruct all social, structural and cultural norms that allow these gender inequalities to continue.

How is women’s inequality being addressed?

At an international level governments and world organisations have pledged their support to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agreement and framework which sets out 12 key areas of concern and “remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women.”[6]

At a community grassroots level however we also need to start addressing the social attitudes we hold towards women. Women need to be better openly supported and valued at every level of society.

Women’s empowerment and equality will benefit the whole society

So what is IWD and why do we need it?

Let’s be clear international women’ day is not about women vs men or criticising the opposite sex. Rather it is about supporting the roles and acknowledging the achievements of women within our diverse world. It is also because women continue to experience inequality simply because they are women that we take this day to raise awareness and show support for the rights of all women across the world, which helps to bring such inequalities to an end.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with women from around the world, from the local business woman Beba in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, overcoming the effects of conflict to rebuild her family home and turning it into a successful business, the women in Afghanistan working every day and risking their lives in support of ending violence and bringing peace to their country. To the women I work with and meet every day doing valuable work that they often don’t even realise is making such a positive difference for our society.

And while we should support the rights and empowerment of women everyday it is nice that for one day of the year on the 8th March the world unites and collectively comes together to honour women all around the world.  Encouraging women no matter where in the world they are, to be empowered, to realise their full potential and to value the contribution they make to our world.

I strongly believe that the empowerment of and fulfilment of women’s rights will have an overarching positive effect not just for their lives but also for the benefit of society as a whole. It is therefore time we all supported the advancement of women’s equality.

“Remember women of the world you are great and together we can and will overcome Gender inequality”

[1] Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, http://time.com/3735042/gender-equality-un/

[2] Find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/medical/infanticide_1.shtml

[3] Find out more at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf

[4] Launch of first major OECD report on gender and education – Thursday 5 March 2015, http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/launch-of-first-major-oecd-report-on-gender-and-education.htm

[5] Source see more at http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[6] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2015/03/08/helen-clark-statement-on-international-women-s-day-/